I want to start by commending our new Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk for preparing the most thorough and thoughtful data presentation that I've seen in the two years that I've been attending (either as an audience member or a School Committee member) School Committee Meetings. She started this job on Friday, February 27th, and led tonight's meeting in the most clear and organized manner that I've seen this year. I was extremely impressed at how she was able to step into this situation and handle it so well.
This meeting was spent talking about two key issues: updated budget scenarios and potential redistricting scenarios. I believe these documents will all be posted on the website soon, so I'm not going to go through all the numbers (and mostly they are the same anyway). But briefly, here are the major cuts at each level:
Tier 1: These are cuts that would DEFINITELY be made
2 classroom teachers (somewhat larger class sizes in 1 5th grade and 1 6th grade) - $108,000
1.7 instrumental music teachers (probably meaning some type of delay in offering this type of music instruction) - $91,800
1.7 intervention teachers (math, English Language Arts) - $91,800
.80 computer teacher - $47,000
There are other cuts, but those are the ones that likely have the most classroom impact.
Tier 2: These are cuts that might be made (this is the "medium level" scenario)
Science coordinator - $54,000 (this means no science coordinator for K to 6 at all)
Librarian - $54,000 (I believe two schools would then share a librarian)
.70 Instrumental music - $37,800
4.5 intervention teachers - $243,000 (1 ELL, 2 ELA, 1.5 Math/ELA)
Computer teacher - $54,000
There are a few other cuts, but these are the ones with the biggest impact.
Tier 3: These are the cuts that represent the WORST CASE
4 classroom teachers - $216,000
.80 instrumental music - $43,200 (meaning the end of instrumental music)
3 more intervention teachers - $162,000 (1 ELL, 2 ELA)
Again, there are a few other cuts, but these are the key ones.
Next, the committee heard about three redistricting options: keep 4 K to 6 schools and redistrict to achieve equity, close MM and keep 3 K to 6 schools, close MM and keep 3 K to 5 schools (move 6th to the MS). I was very, very impressed with the considerable work that Doug Slaughter has done to create literally two different maps, and we got data on not only what the districts would look like, but also class size information. I am going to hope this stuff is all posted on the ARPS website, so I'm not going to repeat it here, but here are a few "highlights":
If you keep four schools, you can NOT really manage the kids in the four buildings -- because you are always going to run up against the issue of MM being very small. So, this redistricting plan has 13 classrooms being used in MM, whereas there are only 12. It also still involves moving kindergarteners from MM to other schools, which I just think is a really bad idea (why create two transitions in two formative years -- preschool to K, K to 1?). This plan does, however, create schools that range in terms of kids on free/reduced lunch from 31.7% to 35.9%, which is a WHOLE lot better than our current spread (22% to 60%). The class sizes are good in this model (range from 13 to 24). Two things I note: the class sizes in MM are VERY small in this model -- only 13 or 14 kids per class in several grades in this school, which is much smaller than those seen in the other schools. This plan uses 72 classroom teachers -- which, for the record, is 3 MORE classrooms than we now use (meaning an additional $150,000 PLUS per year), and 2 MORE classrooms that we would project using next year without redistricting (meaning an additional $100,000 a year).
If you close MM and have 3 K to 6 schools, you run up against needing 19 classrooms in CF (22 in WW and 22 in FR). Although CF only has 16 classrooms, you'd move the portables, which gives you 18 classrooms, and then you could either have 2 kindergarten classrooms instead of 3 (they have projected 3 to get to the 19 classrooms but several grades in CF have only 2 classrooms needed), OR you could bus those kindergarteners to other schools (like we already do now for kids at MM), OR you could use one of the preschool classrooms (although the principal of CF, Mike Morris, cautioned against this, based on projected needs). This model gets you good equity (range of 29.5% to 35.9%), and class sizes ranging from 17 to 24. This model also uses 62 or 63 classrooms -- which is a TREMENDOUS cost savings (again, this was never acknowledged, but this is where you get the major savings). So, if you pay, on average, a teacher $50,000, in this plan with 3 schools, you save about 8 or 9 teachers a YEAR (which presents close to half a million dollars once you add in benefits). The schools are by no means "over-crowded" in this model -- both FR and WW can have up to 24 classrooms, meaning you aren't even at their maximum.
The third model is the close MM and move 6th grade to the MS. This model works at a practical level (because you've moved basically 200 kids to the MS, so there is more room). This model creates good equity (31.2% to 38.8% free/reduced lunch), and good class sizes (range of 17 to 24). This model uses 62 or 63 teachers (54 for K to 5, and probably 8 or 9 more for 6th grade). So, the money in this model is the same savings as the model with keeping 3 K to 6 schools -- as I've written about before, the cost savings here comes at the regional level -- you can then pay some of the administrative staff in that building from the elementary budget (which might let you keep world language in 7th grade FOR EXAMPLE).
Let me make one thing very clear: at the outset of this presentation, the Superintendent said that she and the principals do NOT recommend making any changes at this time -- they prefer to keep four schools open, not redistrict, and just make the necessary cuts to reach whatever budget scenario that we end up reaching (with the possible caveat that at Tier 3 cuts, anything is on the table) .
OK, so thus far, I've been just giving the facts. This is now the opinion time of my blog, so stop reading if opinions bother you in the blog setting.
First, it is very, very clear to me that we have a long-term structural deficit in our schools. We spend more than we have, and thus EVERY YEAR at this time, we start going through what we can cut, bit by bit by bit. This seems awful for many reasons -- anxiety-provoking for the community, disrupts morale in teachers/adminstrators, wastes time that should be spent focusing on curriculum, etc. This deficit is real, and lasting, and it isn't going away. And it is very, very clear from these numbers that (1) we do NOT need four schools at this time, or in the foreseeable future, and (2) keeping four schools is costing about half a million dollars EACH AND EVERY year. And that isn't just "magical" money that we can find looking under seat cushions, etc. Paying to keep four schools open takes money that we are then NOT able to spend on other things. So, what do you get for half a million? Well, I'd start by adding the FULL instrumental music program (this adds 91,800 at Tier 1), and the two intervention teachers (this adds $91,800 at Tier 1). And then I'd think about adding back some of the other cuts we are experiencing -- guidance counselor at WW, cafeteria paraprofessionals at FR and WW, two classroom teachers, and so on. Basically, you can get a lot of stuff for half a million dollars -- and this is half a million EVERY YEAR.
Second, it is very, very clear to me that we have a massive problem with equity in our schools. It is ridiculous to have schools that range from 22% to 60% on free/reduced lunch. We admit it is a problem (we on the board, those in the administration, and I imagine/hope many in the community). But gosh, it is scary to actually doing something about it -- because families will be upset. And I get this - the redistrict model that closes MM and moves to three schools moves my three kids to CF from FR. We bought our house in the FR district so my kids could go there, and my kids have friends who would NOT travel with them to CF based on where they live, and I co-chaired a giant playground installation TWO YEARS AGO at FR that I assumed my then 3-year-old would get to play on at recess. Sure, it would be upsetting for my kids (including my 5th grader, who would move from FR to CF to MS in the span of three years). But I find it upsetting to look at the maps now and realize how we are creating such massively different elementary schools.
Now, we heard lots of talk about taking time to study this issue, hear community input, get parent buy-in, etc. And I'm going to just come out and say it -- I think it is ridiculous to sit around and study this when we are talking about saving half a million a year at a time of massive budget cuts. By closing MM, and keeping the K to 6 in the three schools (I'm frankly convinced for now that keeping the 6th grade in the elementary schools makes sense for now -- though I remain really, really concerned about what we are going to do for the regional budget to get back 7th grade language and avoid two study halls per year in the HS), we could reduce our ANNUAL structural deficit and we could create equity. How much talking should we do? It is never, ever going to be easy or popular to redistrict -- that's why it hasn't happened since like 1973 (even as things got less and less equitable). And it is never going to be popular to close a school. So, it is always easier for SC members to say let's study this some more, let's see how it goes, let's talk to the community, etc. But while we do all this talking and pondering, we are cutting half a million dollars worth of real services to our kids -- basically reducing the rich instrumental music program by half (and how much of an orchestra/band experience will there by if you can only take music in 6th grade, for example?) and cutting support services for our neediest students (those in need of interventions services) -- and living with a total lack of equity in our elementary schools. I understand that I'm likely alone on the committee in having this view -- again, my wiser colleagues are keeping their mouths shut -- but I believe as an elected official, I have a responsibility to make fiscally responsible decisions and I have a responsibility to look out for our core values. To me, that is creating equity in our schools, maintaining a rich instrumental music (cuts to this program hurt our disadvantaged students the most), and providing appropriate intervention services to those who need them. I just don't see having four elementary schools as a core value (and I know there are MM parents who feel that keeping this school open is essential, and I respect this view -- I'm just saying what I feel). I imagine my fellow board members aren't ready to take what they see as a drastic step, so don't worry -- this is just one lone board member blogging. But to me, this is honestly a really easy choice: save a half a milion dollars a year that we can use to providing core services/programs AND create equity in our schools. I just don't need more time to evaluate this choice.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.